Monday, October 24, 2022

Do You Want to Play a (Head)game?


The Saw era has long passed, but horror can never quite shake off a solid premise (especially if it's executable on a low budget). Hence, here we are in 2022 reviewing a film from 2018 that on paper, fits a very early 21st century template. 

Quick Plot: Jackie is a yoga instructor happily enjoying her first date with a wealthy and suave student. After dinner, he takes her to a vaguely '90 nightclub where fellow hot white people are observed by unseen narrators. From mountain climbing to professional tennis, they're (mostly) physical specimens of strength and survival.

Naturally, that makes them the perfect contestants in a murder game! This one is set in a dingy warehouse, the dress code being prison jumpsuits, time limit 12 hours, and the failsafe, a time bomb camera installed in your forehead that will shoot acid into your skull. 

Having fun yet?

The sick thing is...I am! Headgame is a familiar film, one that embraces the Saw-era with its rusty industrial setting and nasty nature, but it also avoids the blatant cruelty that came with so many non-Lionsgate clones. Made in 2018, Headgame isn't exactly the fresh or trend-setting, and the fact that all of its biggest moments are scored by familiar public domain classical opera cues doesn't do it any favors. 

But for all of those shortcomings, Headgame knows exactly what its job is: introduce a dozen characters to die in satisfying ways, toss in a bigger evil gleefully enjoying the show, and center it on a heroine who deserves to triumph over all of them. Along the way, there's a timer countdown and rusty weapons, trained gymnasts, and just enough conversation to develop relationships. It really does work.

High Points
The actual game action moves fairly quickly, partially because the film has an entire extra act outside of it. There's something kind of refreshing in how that gives our horror-hardened predictable expectations a slight twist.

Low Points
While Headgame has far brighter lighting than most horror of this style and budget, it still makes one terrible choice in how it casts and styles its men. There are four in the game, and the two that have visual differentiation (one blond, one bald) are the first to go, meaning we're left constantly trying to decipher which tall brown-haired guy is on which side. They're even in the same shade of jumpsuit!

Lessons Learned
Always label your poison clearly and cleanly

Screw saving the cat: if you want to get the audience on a character's die quickly, have her usher a spider out a window with gentle care

Never trust a man you meet at yoga

Headgame lacks the surprise heart of a Funhouse and big brain of $lashers. It's far from a (head)gamechanger, and it doesn't necessarily offer genuine thrills. But if you came to Amazon Prime looking for a low(ish) budget horror film you hadn't seen before, this is the exact kind of 90 minute romp that you're likely hoping to find. 

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